Firms eye high-bandwidth standards

Over 30 telecom and Internet firms plan to establish industry standards for sending high-bandwidth data through communications networks.

TORONTO -- A group of telecommunications and Internet companies are expected to announce as early as Tuesday plans to establish industry standards for sending video, phone calls and other data-intensive traffic through communications networks.

The companies hope this will streamline the evolution of Internet applications and help provide high-quality video and other high-bandwidth applications to desktop computers. This is difficult to achieve even with high-speed Internet access setups such as cable modems or digital subscriber lines.

Nortel Networks (NT) of Canada said that more than 30 companies, including Nortel itself, AT&T (T) Broadband & Internet unit, NBC Internet Inc., Qwest Communications Inc. (qwst), Sun Microsystems Inc. (sunw) and British Telecommunications PLC plan to cooperate on designing communications architectures for broadband, or high-speed, communications lines, such as video over the Internet or remotely located software.

Missing from the group are Nortel's rivals in the networking industry, such as Cisco Systems Inc. (csco) and Lucent Technologies Inc. (lu) Those companies have been invited to join, said Nortel Networks executive Anthony Alles.

The companies are seeking to accelerate a change in the way computers access the Internet, partly by storing high-bandwidth data content in so-called co-location centers near Internet-service providers. This bypasses various bottlenecks in communications networks when such data-intensive content has to be sent long distance, company officials said.

The group, called the Broadband Content Delivery Forum, is growing in number and will hold its first formal meeting in Orlando, Fla., next month.

"It's not just about Internet access anymore," said Nortel's Alles, who is acting chairman of the group. Internet service providers want to leverage their customer base by providing subscribers with desired specialized content and services, much as cable-television companies resell television content that may or may not be available through the airwaves, he said. A cooperative approach to broadband communications is required for faster rollout of future Internet applications, such as ubiquitous video telephone calls, Alles added.

The group is "establishing a platform for a quality of service" for Internet users with high-speed access, said Edmond Sanctis, president and chief operating officer of NBC Internet. Industry cooperation will address the many technical problems that prevent transmission of high-quality video on the Internet, he added. Eventually, the company's NBCi Web site could offer services such as videoconferencing for a fee, or without charge, if the services raise advertising revenue sufficiently, he said.

Part of the group's planned technology would enable high-bandwidth networks to identify the Web user. That would allow, for example, the ads to be targeted to users. Nortel is also proposing to the group technology that creates "personal portals" for each user. Instead of personalizing a company's portal, Web users could create their own log-on page with various high-bandwidth services.

Other companies that have joined the group include: Akamai Technologies Inc., Bertelsmann AG, Enron Corp., HewlettPackard Co. and several other U.S. and European communications and Internet companies.